Early in the morning on the first day of our hunt Tisdale climbs a windmill tower to get an elevated view of the landscape and soon spots "Zoro" in the distance with some other bucks. After a long stalk he misses a long range shot, which spooks the small herd. But persistence pays off. Around midday, after three hours of hiking and spotting, Tisdale locates the animal again. He slithers into range using mesquite as cover and takes another shot. This one connects. The buck runs 150 yards, then goes down in a cloud of dust.
It’s the day before the 2009 New Mexico archery antelope season. I’m hot and sweating. Armed with giant binoculars and heavy spotting scopes, my friends and I cruise the back roads, scouting for tomorrow. I snap a photo of these six bucks running across the pasture. Nice ones, but there’s bigger horns in the desert brush if you look hard enough. Still, this is public land, so there’s sure to be some competition from other hunters. Hopefully our pre-hunt preparation will pay off. Brandon Ray
To judge distant antelope from our truck we use a window-mounted spotting scope like this big Nikon. When on foot we use small tripods and compact scopes. When you’re looking for a trophy antelope it’s a good idea to inventory the area you’re hunting a day or two before the season opens — you’ll get a better idea of where the top-end bucks are hanging out. Brandon Ray
The New Mexico badlands. A harsh, dry landscape with scattered cactus and short brush. A hunter can see for miles. Mid to late August is monsoon season, so there’s always the threat of afternoon thunderstorms. Brandon Ray
In the afternoon I find this buck guarding a harem of 14 does. It looks like one of the better bucks in the area — his horns look 14 to 15 inches long, with impressive, flared-out prongs. He separates from his girls to make a scrape and I snap this picture. He’s a dandy. A shooter anywhere, but there’s at least one bigger here. Lots bigger. One my friend Steven Tisdale found earlier in the summer. Brandon Ray
And here he is! Check out the buck in the center of this picture, which I snapped later in the day (you can click “enlarge photo” below the image to see the animal better). An antelope like this is as rare as Bigfoot. Tisdale saw this buck while hunting here last year, but didn’t get a shot at him. He nicknamed the animal “Zoro” (because his horns were as long as swords) and came back earlier this summer to find him again. Now we’ve located him for tomorrow’s hunt. The buck has grown considerably, but his wide, flared-out horns make him easy to recognize. Tisdale discovered this hunting area a few years earlier, purely by accident, when, while returning to Texas from a vacation in the Rockies he pulled over to glass some antelope he’d spotted from the highway. Since then we’ve hunted the area several times. Bucks like this are unusual anywhere, but we’ve seen three of similar size over the years. That’s why we keep going back. Where is it? Let’s just say we hunt “No Where, New Mexico” and leave it at that! Brandon Ray
Stalking antelope is no easy task. First you must spot them before they spot you. Then you have to use available cover to
conceal your approach. Pay attention to the wind, keep it in your face or as a crosswind. Look for solo bucks and bucks near cover you can use to hide your approach. Rocks, cactus, burrs, and rattlesnakes make stalking on hands and knees in antelope country an uncomfortable challenge. Part of the game. I like knee pads, elbow pads, leather gloves, even thick pants like those from Carhartt to make the long crawls more tolerable. Prickly pear cactus like this might look pretty, but you’ll be pulling cactus spines out of your hands and knees for weeks after the hunt if your not careful. Brandon Ray
Early in the morning on the first day of our hunt Tisdale climbs a windmill tower to get an elevated view of the landscape and soon spots “Zoro” in the distance with some other bucks. After a long stalk he misses a long range shot, which spooks the small herd. But persistence pays off. Around midday, after three hours of hiking and spotting, Tisdale locates the animal again. He slithers into range using mesquite as cover and takes another shot. This one connects. The buck runs 150 yards, then goes down in a cloud of dust. Brandon Ray
The buck’s horns are almost 17 inches long and have 6 1/2-inch bases. He makes the B&C books with room to spare. But his body is small. While most mature antelope bucks in the area we hunted have a live weight of 120-150 pounds, we estimate this one’s live weight at 90 pounds. His small body size made his horns look that much bigger. Brandon Ray
Three days later I get my own trophy antelope. This is the same big buck I photographed the day before the season opened (see slide 4). I found him by himself, not far from where I took his picture. To get in range I put a clump of mesquites between us and crawled for 200 yards, then made the 56-yard shot from behind the cover of a mesquite bush. Sunburned, dehydrated and tired, I was really excited to tag this special buck. Brandon Ray
I used a 63 pound Mathews DXT bow, Gold Tip Pro Hunter arrows and 100 grain G5 CS Montec broadheads. Brandon Ray
The Southwest is my favorite place to hunt. The game is plentiful, the landscapes broad and wild, and sunsets like this don’t happen anywhere else. Even though it’s still a year away, I’m already thinking about next year’s hunt. Brandon Ray
Steven Tisdale tagged a giant buck during New Mexico’s antelope bow season. Here’s the story, in photos.